The Mistranslation of 'Homosexuality'
The Vatican's March 15th decision not to bless same-sex marriage in and its origins in the mistranslation of homosexuality throughout biblical history.
The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of colour, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.
This is the response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a sub-section of the Vatican that defines and articulates Church teachings, who, in early 2021 found themselves pressured to provide an answer to what is a pressing question amongst the LGBTQ+ community.
Particularly, for those that also align themselves with Catholic teachings. It was, perhaps, an unexpected answer. Pope Francis had previously found himself receiving praise for his apparent leniency to LGBTQ+ affairs. Leniency is, of course, subjective.
The mere acknowledgement of same-sex partnerships coupled with a lack of active discrimination may present as leniency to some, but it would not go amiss to suggest that the word we may be looking for instead, is appeasement.
In this way, "Negative" is an entirely expected response.
For years, the LGBTQ+ community has dealt with intolerance in the name of religious beliefs. "Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination" is the infamous biblical teaching. Certainly, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But when this opinion fosters hatred and alienates an entire sub-section of not only the Catholic community but of society, is it still an opinion? Or is it a weapon? It is the aim of this article to uncover exactly how this ‘opinion’ came to be, and exactly the detriment it has.
Interestingly, "Negative" is not as straightforward as it may seem. Following the single word responsum, the C.D.F issued a brief, 1,000-word explanatory note as to their reasoning behind the refusal to bless same-sex unions.
The nature in which the Vatican has concluded that same-sex unions are sinful is complex, there is no typical spiel of "Homosexuality is a sin" (the Vatican wouldn’t dare be so explicit in today’s ‘progressive’ society).
Rather, it is highlighted that blessings are ‘sacred signs that resemble the sacraments’, such as marriage, which, in God’s plan, found ‘inscribed in creation’ is between a man and a woman. Same-sex unions cannot, therefore, be marriages, to bless them would be to give sacramental recognition to sexual relations outside of marriage, which the Church technically regards as a sin in all cases.
“The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination…”.
It is a statement that is not misaligned with the previous words of Pope Francis, who has taken a somewhat progressive stance on LGBTQ+ affairs in comparison to his predecessors.
As mentioned above, it is entirely debatable as to how lenient his stance truly is. Therefore, for the purpose of clarity, his words and actions will be taken at face value for the time being.
Until the March 15th decision, Pope Francis had shown a “striking openness to same-sex partnerships.” For example, after the 2013 election, speaking in regard to gay priests believed to be in high positions in the Vatican, he uttered the words “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and he has goodwill, who am I to judge?”. And, in 2019, he spoke in support of legal protection for same-sex couples, a remark that came to light through the Vatican-approved film ‘Francesco’, a film that deals with LGBTQ+ affairs.
So, if he has previously shown a level of support, why the backtracking? It has been suggested that the statement provided by the C.D.F doesn’t reflect the Pope’s personal position. Rather, it is a miserable consequence of extenuating circumstances.
Perhaps, he was outsmarted by the clerical bureaucrats of the C.D.F, who met to draft the document and pushed it through while the Pope was busy preparing for an impending trip to Iraq. Meaning, he did not have time to read and approve of its release.
The statement is a mere 1,000 words long and is dated to February 22nd, 12 days before he left for Iraq. The notion that he did not have time to read the responsum is absurd and quite frankly, a misled and naïve excuse.
What is more likely, therefore, is that the responsum was born out of political necessity. We must bear in mind that the Pope is the head of a global Church, not just the Church in ‘progressive’ Europe. Perhaps, he was throwing traditionalists a bone to ensure their consistent support:
“Circumstances don’t diminish either the sting of the document of the Pope’s responsibility for it, however."
Whether the C.D.F believe it to be or not, what the decision is, is nothing short of ‘unjust discrimination'.
Its intent is hypocritical, as is the Pope’s allowance of such a decision to go forward. Consequently, the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those of a Catholic fail, are left confused and exposed to the hate this decision has undoubtedly harboured.
But at what point did this intolerance begin? Has it always been this way? The short answer again is "Negative".
To summarise, the infamous biblical teaching ‘Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination' is a mistranslation, born out of the context of the time in which an authorised, German revision of the Bible was published. What it is a mistranslation of, is arsenokoitai, a Greek compound word (two or more words put together to form a new word), formed from the Greeks words meaning ‘male’ and ‘bed’ with a sexual connotation.
A German Bible from the 1800s translates arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians to ‘Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ Meaning, it is a condemnation of paedophilia, or ‘Boymolesters’, the term is then for the most part carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations.
Therefore, the words ‘homosexual’ or ‘homoerotic’ were never in the original Bible. What we can instead gather is a condemnation of the paedophilic nature of the ancient Greek practise pederasty- sexual relations between an adult man, the active erastes, and a young boy, the passive eromenos.
For the Greeks, it can be argued that there was a level of acceptance towards homoerotic behaviour, or at least an acknowledgement, with famous oratory sources such as Aeschines Against Timarchus confirming its existence in Greek day-to-day culture.
It was the modern conception of this structure of the relationship (an adult man and a young boy) as paedophilic that was the issue. Which, of course, we understand but was not necessarily immoral in Greek antiquity. Hence, the phrase ‘Boy molester’.
Surprising to none, the shift in terminology from ‘Boy molester’ to a condemnation of the homoerotic nature of the relationship coincides with the 1980s AIDS epidemic, when intolerance towards members of the LGBTQ+ community was at an all-time high.
In 1983, the American company Biblica paid for a revised and updated translation of the German Bible because Germany did not have enough of a Christian population to warrant the cost of a new Bible translation.
Consequently, under the manipulation of funding the translation, the American company held influence over what was included. ‘Homosexual’ was chosen over ‘Boy molester’, and this was later put into English Bibles.
It is nothing short of an act of hatred born out of contextual ignorance. A decision born out of circumstance, in which fear and hatred fostered an intolerance that has a lasting and astounding impact to this day.
Why else would the Vatican refuse to bless same-sex partnerships, if this intolerance had not been put into writing? And specifically, in what could be considered the most influential book of them all?
So, it is hardly a mistranslation at all. What Biblica did was deliberate: They used a religious context to weaponize their own stance on homosexual affairs, one that was a result of the societal context of the 1980s.
The influence this hate-fuelled decision continues to hold over contemporary society some 30 years from the AIDS epidemic, in a society that we deem as progressive in comparison to the 1980s standpoint on homosexuality, is immense.
"Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination" holds society in a vice-like grip. Without such writing, we could question whether the Vatican would have come to any such decision as they did on March 15th at all.
As a result, Catholic, same-sex couples suffer, same-sex couples suffer and quite frankly, the whole LGBTQ+ community is left reeling. Whether the Vatican care to admit it or not, it is a decision that encourages unjust discrimination. Perhaps, the notion that it could be anything but is the true mistranslation at hand.